“There are bodies everywhere,” said one CNN correspondent. Another described how, “looking into the sea, what we see is people’s lives…. Door frames, windows, furniture, clothes, cars.” The reports came from Derna, in eastern Libya, where torrential rains led to the collapse of two dams on September 11 and washed a quarter of the city out into the Mediterranean Sea. The Libyan Red Crescent initially estimated the death toll could surpass ten thousand. Tens of thousands more were missing, and at least thirty thousand were displaced.
Libya was not the only country battered by the storm; Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey also suffered significant damages to land and property, and more than a dozen deaths. But Libya bore the highest toll by far. Derna’s devastation can be blamed in part on Libya’s civil and governmental dysfunction. Following the 2011 fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the country has struggled to build and maintain a unified democracy. Two competing governments currently lay claim to the country: the internationally recognized Government of National Unity in Tripoli and the Government of National Stability, based in the east. Persistent conflict between the two has left Libya unable to to prioritize the safety and health of its people. Both dams were overdue for maintenance, calls to repair them were long ignored, and engineers had warned of potential catastrophe. When disaster struck, residents received mixed messages about whether to flee or to remain indoors. Furious and distraught citizens have begun staging demonstrations in Derna, blaming authorities for their negligence and even setting fire to the mayor’s house.